Apollo Magazine

The week in art news – Colston Four cleared of criminal damage

Plus: Iwona Blazwick to step down as director of Whitechapel Gallery | Annick Lemoine appointed new director of Petit Palais | and Bengi Ünsal appointed new director of ICA

The ‘Colston Four’ – Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, Jake Skuse and Sage Willoughby, speak outside Bristol Crown Court after being found not guilty of criminal damage.

The ‘Colston Four’ – Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, Jake Skuse and Sage Willoughby, speak outside Bristol Crown Court after being found not guilty of criminal damage on 5 January 2022. Still from footage by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

The four defendants on trial for the toppling of the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol last June have all been found not guilty. Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, Jake Skuse and Sage Willoughby, known as the ‘Colston Four’, were cleared of the charge of criminal damage by a majority 11–1 verdict; the jury at Bristol Crown Court deliberated for just under three hours. The defendants made no attempt to deny their involvement in the removal of the statue last summer, arguing that theirs was an act of protest rather than of criminal damage. The historian David Olusoga, who gave evidence as an expert witness at the trial, said, ‘This verdict is a milestone in the journey that Bristol and Britain are on to come to terms with the totality of our history.’ Robert Jenrick MP, who as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government introduced legislation requiring that the removal of monuments and statues require planning permission, tweeted ‘We undermine the rule of law, which underpins our democracy, if we accept vandalism and criminal damage are acceptable forms of political protest. They aren’t. Regardless of the intentions.’ For more about the Colston statue in Apollo, see Madge Dresser on the putting up of the monument and Daniel Trilling on the art of creative destruction. Updated on 7 January: The attorney general, Suella Braverman, has said that she is ‘carefully considering’ whether to refer the case to the court of appeal. Braverman’s announcement on Twitter came after widespread criticism of the verdict from Conservative MPs. If the case were referred, the court of appeal would not be able to overturn the acquittal, only to determine whether an error in law was made in the instructions given to the jury.

Iwona Blazwick is to step down as director of the Whitechapel Gallery in London after 20 years in the role. During her time at the helm Blazwick oversaw the gallery’s physical expansion, completed in 2009, to incorporate the former Whitechapel Library nextdoor, as well as a strengthened commitment to exhibiting more work by women artists. The Max Mara Art Prize for Women was founded under her leadership in 2005. Blazwick will step down from the role in April, but continue as Emeritus Curator for the gallery until April 2023. The Whitechapel’s board of trustees has started the process of recruiting a new director.

The Petit Palais in Paris announced on Thursday (6 January) that it has appointed Annick Lemoine as its new director. Lemoine, who is currently director of the Musée Cognacq-Jay and chief curator of heritage for the City of Paris, replaces Christophe Leribault, who departed last September to take charge of the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie. Lemoine takes up the reins at the Petit Palais next month.

The Institute of Contemporary Arts has appointed Bengi Ünsal as its new director from March. Ünsal has for the last five years been at the Southbank Centre, most recently as Head of Contemporary Music, and brings that experience in live-performance programming to the ICA, which aims to broaden that aspect of its programme. The first woman to lead the organisation in 55 years, Ünsal takes up the reins after Stefan Kalmár relinquished the post in August 2021.

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